the lost man chronicles

accomplishment as its own reward

“What do you think about the Rasmussen application?” asks Besso.
“The bottle centrifuge?”
“The shaft will vibrate too much to be useful,” says Einstein, “but the idea is clever. I think it would work a flexible mounting that could find its own rotation axis.”

Besso knows what that means. Einstein will work up a new design himself and send it to Rasmussen without requesting payment or even acknowledgement. Often, the lucky recipients of Einstein’s suggestions don’t even know who revises their patent applications. Not that Einstein doesn’t enjoy recognition. A few years ago, when he saw the issue of Annalen der Physik bearing his first paper, he imitated a rooster for fully five minutes.

~Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman

I like that passage because it says much about genius and what eccentrics can afford to give simply because they love what they do. It speaks to me gloriously, as my creativity has often thrived upon the same source of magnanimous motivation. Cock-a-doo-do-doo!

It so happens that I heard a similarly-toned, wonderfully written and intoned essay-ode this morning on NPR, one of Frank Deford’s best, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the long-elusive breaking of the 4 minute mile. “Fifty years ago today,” the sports commentator relays, a brilliant neurologist –in-the-making by the name of Roger Banister gloriously and selflessly dedicated himself to a feat that would mark the end of humble heroism. Along with the ascent of Mt. Everest, this short long-winded feat, would be one of man’s greatest physical milestones of the twentieth century. And, as the story goes, Bannister simply did it because “he had to.” It was just another accomplishment he had set his heart on, “and by Jove, I’m gonna do it!”

There were no multi-million dollar contracts at the time, no lush-life endorsements, no fans lauding and fawning and falling over themselves to praise this awesome display of long-limbed, panting, and unbelievably courageous athleticism. No, Roger’s greatest source of recognition was simply his own self-acknowledgement and sense of accomplishment. Pure and simple, as the greatest, since time-immemorial, have known it to be.

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